Well, Ireland got the November Series off to a great start with a comprehensive victory over Samoa, winning the match 40-9. Ireland scored 5 tries (2 by Dave Kearney who came on for his 1st cap!) and were the dominant team overall.
Ireland took a while to get going and Samoa were always competitive, but Ireland’s set pieces (scrums and line-outs) were much improved and the offensive play was much more impressive, than last year.
It was a hard-fought contest with the Samoans living up to their reputation as one of the hardest hitting teams in the game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only the Irish who received the brunt of the Samoans aggression. 2 of the Samoans had to be replaced after colliding with each other.
This incident was the death-knell for Samoa, who had earlier lost a player to the sin-bin. Ireland took advantage of the depletion in the Samoan team and ran away with the game.
It was a very good team performance overall, with Brian O’Driscoll showing that there’s still a lot of fight in the old warrior. Some of the newer players showed form, with debutant prop Jack McCrath been judged the man of the match.
It was a great day for the Kearney family, with Rob been his usual impressive self and younger brother Dave playing a stormer when he came on for his 1st cap, assisting in Fergus McFadden’s try and scoring 2 of his own.
Samoa were outplayed but were still impressive in defeat. They had had to pick an understrength team going into the game, due to having several of their best players injured and having 3 of their team going off for different reasons during the match didn’t help them in the end.
Still, Ireland got the win and got Joe Schmidt’s campaign off to a good start. Samoa, though, are the easier of the 3 sides Ireland will be facing in the November Series. They face Australia next Saturday and New Zealand the Saturday after that.
While Ireland beat Samoa, Australia had their own game against Italy, a contest Australia won very impressively, 50-20. Australia started the game badly, conceding 10 unanswered points against the hosts, but bounced back with a dominant performance, scoring 7 tries in all (though the Italians did get 3 tries of their own).
Australia have had a very difficult season, with a very poor record (of the last 10 matches, they’ve won only 3) and were defeated by a poor enough English side last week. Their much needed win against Italy could be signs of a turnaround in the fortunes of the Wallabies (Australia are now officially known as the Qantas Wallabies, not as Australia. I hope this isn’t the start of something. We could have a Rugby Championship between the Wallabies, Pumas, Springboks and All Blacks!? Sponsorship is getting out of hand).
New Zealand have been a real force this year, having won all 11 of their matches this year, winning the Rugby Championship outright, beating France in a 3-test series and recently overcoming Australia.
New Zealand played France again on Saturday (they thrashed Japan last week) in a game which was much more competitive. The score was 9-all at half-time.
New Zealand came back in the 2nd half, scoring 2 tries and gaining the lead of the match. France scored a try of their own, to make the scores 26-19 to the All Blacks. France were denied a try at the death, camped on the New Zealand try-line they were unable to score that last try.
A French try would have meant the match ended in a draw, heart-breaking for France, but it’s still the best French performance in recent times. They’ve been poor in the 6 Nations over the last few years and lost that 3-test series to New Zealand in the Summer. Hopefully, this close loss against the best team in the world will boost their confidence.
France did very well, especially considering how worn out all their players must be, playing Top14 games week-in, week-out. Like Jonny Sexton’s predicament but multiplied by 23.
New Zealand face off against England, next week (while we’re facing Australia). England have a pretty good chance. England’s performance against Australia wasn’t great last week, but they beat Argentina quite comfortably earlier on Saturday and they have some very good players in their side.